I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I've neglected these skinny little pencils, which seem to show up in my junk boxes without me being able to remember how they even got there. But when I started looking more closely at them -- and started to do a little bit of research on them -- I came to recognize that there was much more to them than met the eye. The Slencil was the life's work of one man, whose name is largely lost to history: Carl C. Harris, of Orange, Massachusetts.
During Harris' lifetime, he created and patented dozens of inventions in the printing and textile industry. The first that I could find, applied for in 1919, was for something called a "gudgeon," and this patent, along with several other Harris patents in the 1920s, was assigned to the Rodney Hunt Machine Company. During the 1920s, Harris also received several other patents, which he assigned to "Rivet-O Manufacturing Company," including a packaging system for eyelts and designs for ink roller and stamping pads.
In 1933, Harris applied for a patent for a thin pencil, "much thinner than said wood pencils, which can be carried in a book, such as a diary or the like, and can be used for attachment to a score card or pocketbook." The drawings accompanying this patent showed a design for a wafer thin metal pencil, with a little knurled knob right in the middle that would advance or retract the lead. The patent was granted on October 3, 1934 as patent number 1,975,788. View patent here. At the same time, he sought a design patent for the way his pencil looked, which was granted October 2, 1934 as Design Patent 93,476. View patent here. The patent was reissued on August 4, 1937 as RE20,481, which explains why that number appears on many examples.
To fully appreciate how far ahead of its time this little pencil was, think about what the "big four" pen and pencil manufacturers were doing in 1933: Parker had just introduced the Vacumatic, Sheaffer had just "flattened the ball" on the clips of its new Balance line, Waterman had just introduced the Patrician and Eversharp's flagship line was the Doric. No one was producing anything remotely like Carl Harris' new pencil!
Apparently, being so far ahead of its time made the idea a tough one to market, and his new pencil patent wasn't assigned to either Rodney Hunt nor to Rivet-O. But this didn't deter Harris, who appeared to pour all of his creative energy after 1933 into improvements to his initial design: in 1934 he applied for a patent for a longer version of his skinny pencil, with a second knob located towards the top that would advance or retract an eraser, which was awarded October 8, 1935 as patent 2,016,715. View here. That same year, he applied for a patent on a "slidable clip" that could be moved up and down the skinny pencil, depending on how high out of your pocket you wanted the pencil to stick out (patent 2,039,410, granted May 5, 1936. View here). And in 1938, he devised another version of the clip that looped over the top of his skinny pencil and could be swiveled to the side for access to the eraser (patent 2,167,717, granted August 1, 1939. View here).
In 1942, Harris, in conjunction with Linton Bassett, applied for a patent on a wide lead version of the pencil -- one of the only patents for an italic lead pencil -- which had the knurled knob at the top of the pencil rather than in the middle (patent 2,338,068, granted December 28, 1943 -- view here). And in 1943, Harris received a patent for a special memo pad designed to accompany his skinny pencil, when the pencil was fitted with a unique wire clip (patent 2,383,858, awarded August 28, 1945 - view here).
A second patent for a revised version of the wire "clamping clip," awarded on January 28, 1947 as patent number 2,414,810 (view here), was the first patent Harris received (this one also with Linton Bassett) that was assgned to "The Slencil Co., Orange, Mass." An improved eraser, "for pencils and particularly for flat pencils," was patented by Harris and assigned to The Slencil Co. on September 20, 1949 as number 2,482,273 (view here).
In 1953, after 19 years of tinkering, Harris received a patent for an updated and overhauled version of his original 1934 design, featuring a more traditional side clip and imrpoved lead drive. Patent number 2,633,827, issued April 7, 1953. View here. A couple years later, he applied for a patent incorporating his traditional side clip design into his 1947 "clamping clip," which was awarded May 7, 1957 as patent 2,791,015. View here.
I could only find one later patent applied for by Carl Harris, for a Stencil Roll applied for in 1958 and assigned to Slencil. Over 40 years of inventing, Harris dedicated nearly 25 of them almost exclusively to refining and improving his flat pencil. My research continues as to what became of Mr. Harris after 1958.
The Slencil Co., however, lives on as a division of Rivet-O Manufacturing Company, producing ballpoint pens and pencils with plastic tethering cords used in banks and other commercial locations (called the "Tetherite"). The pencils are still skinnier than a regular pencil, but at some point in the 1960s the company switched to a more traditional nose drive pencil, making the pencils necessarily thicker and more rectangular than flat. But even now, looking at the modern decendants of Harris' 1934 innovation, whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit....
there's nothing else quite like it.
(click on pictures to enlarge)